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Victims of racial discrimination deserve compensation, Montreal mayor testifies


Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante told a court on Wednesday that victims of racial profiling have the right to compensation, but it needs to be awarded based on a rigorous process to avoid throwing taxpayer money "out the window."

Plante was testifying in a class-action lawsuit that claims the city hasn't acted to combat systemic racial profiling by its police officers.

The mayor told the judge she has no trouble admitting that social and racial profiling are real.

"And people who live it, it’s terrible, and they have to ask for compensation. They have to go forward to exercise their rights for equitable treatment," she said.

"Neither I, nor the city of Montreal, nor the (Montreal police) question that."

However, Plante seemed to suggest that compensation needs to be handed out on an individual basis, after a person has demonstrated that they've been wronged. Such an approach, she said, is more mindful of taxpayer money and also allows the Montreal police to better review their practices.

"In any society, in ours, we have to be able to compensate if needed, but we can’t throw money out the window either," she said.

She added that there are already mechanisms in place to address injustices, including the police ethics committee and the province's human rights commission.

The lawsuit heard by Quebec Superior Court Justice Dominique Poulin is led by the Black Coalition of Quebec and Alexandre Lamontagne, a Black man who alleges he was brutally arrested and detained by Montreal police outside a bar in 2017 without any valid reason.

Lawyer Papa Mike Diomande is shown at the Montreal courthouse, Wednesday, Feb.15, 2023, representing Alexandre Lamontagne in a class action suit against the City of Montreal and Montreal police for racial profiling. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pierre Saint-Arnaud

Court documents say he was originally charged with assault and obstructing the work of police officers, but those charges were dropped the following year.

They're asking that a total $171 million be awarded to racialized people who were arrested or detained by Montreal police without reason between August 2017, when Lamontagne was arrested, and January 2019.

During her testimony, Plante fielded repeated questions by a lawyer for the plaintiffs about why numerous reports show visible minorities are still treated unequally in Montreal, more than 30 years after the city made its first public commitment to tackle racial discrimination.

Plante told the court the city is a reflection of society as a whole, and that tackling the problem is multi-faceted and complex, encompassing areas such as policing, housing, employment and education.

"I’ll be honest with you Madame judge, if there was a magic wand to fix this, we would do it," Plante said.

The mayor pushed back on suggestions that the city and police haven't acted to address social and racial discrimination and profiling.

She noted the city has committed to adopting all 38 recommendations from a 2020 public consultation on systemic racism, including appointing a commissioner to oversee anti-racism efforts.

The police, for their part, have created new policies outlining how they can stop people after a 2019 report that found Black, Arab and Indigenous Montrealers were several times more likely to be intercepted by police than their white counterparts, she said.

While she described the city as a "leader" in anti-discrimination efforts, Plante was unable to give details on how much progress had been made in implementing the recommendations.

"As mayor I’m there to give the vision, the political orientations, but when we get into the implementation, it’s hard to give a concrete answer as to where we are," she said.

Both Lamontagne and his lawyer, Mike Diomande, reacted positively to Plante's testimony. Diomande said the mayor's statements show she and his clients are "speaking the same language, even if we're taking different paths."

"At the end of the day, we have the impression it will overlap because we're saying the same things and are carried by the same hopes for change," he said outside the court.

Lamontagne said he was encouraged to hear the mayor recognize the existence of racial profiling and acknowledge the need for compensation for those who were wronged.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2023. Top Stories

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